Government Accountability Office

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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the non-partisan audit, evaluation, and investigative agency of the United States Congress. The GAO exists to support the Congress in meeting its Constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the American people. The GAO is headed by the Comptroller General of the United States, a non-partisan position currently filled by David M. Walker. The seventh Comptroller General of the United States, Mr. Walker was appointed by President Clinton, and began serving his 15-year term in 1998.

From the organization's founding in 1921 until July 2004, GAO was an abbreviation for General Accounting Office; the current name was established as part of the GAO Human Capital Reform Act.

The GAO, a United States government electronic data provider, examines the use of public funds, evaluates federal programs and activities, and provides analyses, options, recommendations, and other assistance to help the Congress make effective oversight, policy, and funding decisions. In this context, GAO works to continuously improve the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of the federal government through financial audits, program reviews and evaluations, analyses, legal opinions, investigations, and other services. The GAO's activities are designed to ensure the executive branch's accountability to the Congress under the Constitution and the government's accountability to the American people. For instance, several GAO investigations of the Department of Defense uncovered rampant government waste.

GAO reports on a variety of topics related to federal spending, including Defense Capabilities and Management, Health Care, Information Technology, Natural Resources and Environment, Homeland Security and Justice, and International Affairs and Trade.

Most GAO reports are initiated by requests from members of Congress, including requests mandated in statute, and so reflect concerns of current political import, but many reports are issued periodically and take a long view of US agencies' operations. Examples of these are the annual Performance and Accountability Series and High Risk Update.

The Government Accountability Office also establishes standards for audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions, and of government assistance received by contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernment organizations. These standards, often referred to as generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS), are to be followed by auditors and audit organizations when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. These standards pertain to auditors' professional qualifications, the quality of audit effort, and the characteristics of professional and meaningful audit reports.

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